9. Chapter Eight
Haldir could not remember how he passed the next hours but when he came to himself, he was sitting in the falling darkness in the forest outside the Elvenking's halls. He could hear the guards calling to each other as they set the night watch, and in the far distance there came the neighing and whickering of horses and the song of the few birds who had not yet settled down to roost. In the unearthly time that was neither day nor night, Haldir knew the turning of the earth around him, and the nearness of the gods whose faces are hidden by the brightness of the sun.
Breathing in the evening air, Haldir felt as if a part of him had been shattered, and that the pieces were scattered far and wide, beyond recovery. Deep down a voice was trying to tell him he was free, that tomorrow all would be well, but he no longer believed it. Something was being asked of him: something greater than the courage with which he would lead his companions into the darkness of Dol Guldur to face whatever evil they found there.
Desperately he tried to fill his mind with images of home: of his brothers, going about their usual tasks: Rumil, dry and unemotional like Haldir himself, and Orophin, the youngest and most impulsive of the three; of Galadriel and Celeborn, and how fine they had looked at Midsummer; of his chamber in the guard room, with his books lined up neatly on the shelf, and his weapons leaning against the wall, secure and ordinary; and of his own talan, a refuge where nothing could touch him.
But something had touched him, and his efforts to keep himself safe had come to nothing. He was being asked to cast aside that safety, to give nothing less than everything: his heart, his body, his peace of mind. In the sacred silence of the forest night, Haldir heard the summons of the gods calling him to turn to life, even if that meant pain.
'No!' he whispered fiercely to the Valar in the darkness. 'Look what became of those who answered your call! It would have been better for the elves if they had never set out on the Great Journey, and brought down curses on their heads, all because you loved them and wished for their fellowship. My kin did not cross the mountains, but stayed in peace in Lorien and in Mirkwood. Why should I listen to your voices?'
But no answer came to him in the darkness, and all he had on which to draw was the deep well of his duty: the same duty that kept him bound in love to Lorien, faithful to his oath and to his kin. And scarcely knowing what he did, he got up and walked slowly through the forest until he reached the clearing where the dwellings of the elves of Mirkwood were built, and he sat down again, gazing out from between the trees at Legolas' house. He knew the Galadhrim were absent, saying their farewells to the Mirkwood elves and Cerveth in particular.
'It will do no harm if I watch here for a while, for one last time,' he said to himself.
For an hour or more as night fell, he sat in silence, trying to ignore the struggle within himself, to find a way to make peace in his own soul; but at the end of the time all he had achieved was an agonising headache. The pain pulsed through him in time with the beating of his heart, and he breathed against it, head bowed, trying not to groan out loud and disturb those who dwelt in the wooden houses nearby. Raising his head a little, he was relieved to see that all the lights were out, so there was little chance of him troubling anyone. No, he could see a light, a single shaded candle, but as often happened when he had a headache like this, his sight was blurred, and he was not sure in the darkness whose dwelling it was.
Then, through the strange disorientation of his affliction, he remembered; saw as if it was happening before him at this moment: Legolas walking through the darkened and shuttered house, carrying a single shaded candle and placing it in the window to show he had retired for the night, and was not to be disturbed unless for dire need. And when he had done it, he came back, a slender shadow, and climbed into the curtained bed beside Haldir and took him in his arms, and they shared their bodies in the blissful darkness, the incense rising like a prayer around them.
And all at once his choice was clear before him, and he got up and walked the short distance to Legolas' dwelling, and knocked on the door. There was no answer. Haldir knocked again, louder and longer, but it was some time before he heard movement within.
'Who is it?' said a dull voice he scarcely recognised. 'Go away, I can't be disturbed.'
'Legolas, let me in!' he demanded, gritting his teeth against the pain in his head.
'Who is it?' the voice said again. 'Ada, is that you? I need to sleep. I'll see you in the morning.'
'Legolas, it's me, Haldir. By Elbereth, open the door!'
There was a silence, and Haldir seemed to feel the tension on the other side of the door pushing against him. Then there came the sound of a key turning, and the door opened.
Legolas stood there, but so changed that Haldir was shocked. He was as white as his nightshirt and his eyes were bloodshot and swollen.
'What do you want?' Legolas said, hoarsely.
'I…came to see you,' said Haldir.
'Haldir…' said Legolas, and then he put out his hand and dragged him into the house and shut the door.
They stood facing each other, a few feet apart. 'What's the matter with you?' demanded Legolas. 'Why are you holding your head?'
'It pains me,' said Haldir.
Legolas turned away. 'There is willow-bark in the chest by the hearth. Take it and go,' he said curtly.
'Legolas…I don't want to go. Let me stay,' said Haldir.
Legolas did not turn back to him. 'If you can't go back to your chamber, you can sleep before the hearth.'
'I don't want to sleep there,' said Haldir. 'I want to sleep beside you, Legolas.'
Legolas turned slowly to him then, and his eyes were full of pain.
'You tell me you can't be with me, and then you come to my door and you say this. And tomorrow at dawn you will leave me again, with nothing. Haldir, I don't have the strength to endure your cruelty any more.'
Haldir stood, turned to stone before him. His mind was empty of thoughts, and he could find no words to speak. His sight so blurred that he could barely see, he fumbled inside his cloak until his fingers found what they were searching for, something cold and metallic, and when he could not detach it, he wrenched at it until it came away, ripping the cloth.
'Haldir…' said Legolas wearily, but Haldir seized his hand and pressed the object into it, folding his fingers closed.
Slowly Legolas opened his hand and looked down at what was within: an enamel pin shaped like a green beech leaf, newly unfurled in the spring. His eyes widened as he recognised it.
'I thought it was lost, but it wasn't…' said Haldir breathlessly. 'You gave it to me when…when…'
'You've been wearing it,' said Legolas in a wondrous voice. 'And now you're returning it to me…'
'No, I…I don't know…' said Haldir, wincing and pressing his hand to his head. 'Legolas…'
Legolas looked at him, his eyes suddenly defenceless, turning the beech pin round and round between his fingers. Squinting a little with the pain, Haldir stretched out his hand slowly and laid it on Legolas' cheek. Legolas made a small sound of surprise but his eyes closed and he tilted his face into Haldir's hand, letting him hold him.
'Legolas,' said Haldir uncertainly, 'don't tell me to go. I don't know what's happening to me but…please, I don't want to leave you.'
Legolas opened his eyes and looked at him with such directness that Haldir gasped. 'Please…' he said again, his hand sliding from Legolas' cheek.
Legolas reached out and caught his hand and without a word led him through the house into the bedroom and shut the door. Carefully he undid the clasp of Haldir's cloak and laid it aside, then after helping him to strip down to his underlinens, he threw back the covers and made Haldir climb into the big bed and stretch out on the cool white sheets. Haldir let his head sink down into the pillow, groaning as the pain caused colours to spark and burst before his closed eyes. He heard Legolas' soft footfalls going away from him and tried to call out but before he had found the words Legolas was at his side again, and a moment later he felt a cool cloth laid across his brow. He groaned again, this time with relief, and tears slipped from his eyes and soaked into the pillow.
'Rest, beloved,' said Legolas' voice softly, and he raised Haldir's head and made him drink something. Haldir swallowed what he could and then fumbled for Legolas' hand and held it tightly.
Haldir didn't know how much time passed, but after a while he felt movement near him, and Legolas climbed into the bed beside him and drew the curtains shut around them. The pain was less now, but the weakness that followed the pain was on him, and he lay as if suspended between heaven and earth. Gradually the colours and sounds in his head faded, and he could hear Legolas breathing softly, and see the outline of the window through a gap in the curtains. At last he was able to move his head, and turning, he found Legolas gazing at him calmly, as if there were nothing more natural than for them to be sharing his bed.
'Sleep, sweeting, if you wish to,' Legolas said gently, and he reached out and caressed Haldir's face.
'No,' said Haldir hoarsely. 'I want to give myself to you. But…I'm afraid, Legolas. How will I bear it?'
'I don't know,' said Legolas, his fingers grazing Haldir's lips. 'I don't know how I will bear it either.'
Haldir reached out for him then, and Legolas came into his arms. They clung together desperately like two children hiding from a storm, Haldir's face pressed against Legolas' shoulder, his mouth on the smooth warm skin of his collarbone. But slowly they forgot their fear, and they forgot where they were and when, and in that secret space they found one another again. Haldir pushed Legolas' nightshirt over his head and passed his hands over his lover's body, and it was as if they had been together only the day before, so familiar were the planes of his shoulders and his strong chest and the soft curve of his belly and his long legs. And Legolas stripped Haldir of his linens and kissed his face and his neck and the hollow at the base of his throat, and let his hands rove everywhere until Haldir was gasping with pleasure. And the more their bodies were inflamed with desire, the more their tears flowed, for they knew the price of this blissful opening to one another would be pain.
And when finally they joined one with the other, Legolas tasted the salt of Haldir's tears on his lips, and Haldir felt Legolas' body shudder with weeping, and as they rose towards the peak of pleasure, they called out to one another as though over a great distance, and their spirits joined and twined together, and they were one.
Afterwards they lay breathing fast, their bodies tangled and sliding against each other with the sweat of their joining. Haldir reached out blindly, his fingers on Legolas' face, feeling the long arched brows and the sharp cheekbones with the smooth hollows beneath, and the lips that curved softly like a bow.
Legolas sighed with deep satisfaction. 'Haldir, we have come home…' he said, and Haldir nodded mutely, letting Legolas take the tips of his fingers gently between his lips.
Soon they drifted into sleep, but after an hour they woke again, and this time their passion was blind and demanding, and they marked each other's bodies as they struggled together in the darkness, feeding each other after long hunger and thirst for one another.
When their desire was spent they rested but dared not waste their few hours together in sleep, and soon they began to see one another's features growing clearer as the light strengthened outside, and with breaking hearts they rose and helped each other to dress.
'That belt…' said Haldir, seeing it again on the chair. 'I gave it to you after…'
'After you couldn't wait to have me, and broke my old one while you stripped the clothes off me,' said Legolas.
'Yes,' said Haldir, his voice husky with renewed desire, and he dragged Legolas into his arms and kissed him hard. Legolas went limp against him, and when they finally pulled apart from each other, his eyes were wide and unfocussed with pleasure.
'There isn't time…' said Legolas, but they found the time, though their clothes suffered, and Haldir had to promise to bring another belt as a gift.
It was almost full daylight when they stood at the door of the house, arms tight round one another, clinging together as if it would be impossible ever to let go. At last Legolas tore himself away from Haldir.
'I'm coming with you to Dol Guldur,' he said. 'Not just because I can't let you go, which is reason enough in itself, but for the sake of the alliance.'
'No,' said Haldir, his voice cold and harsh. 'You will not come. I forbid it.'
Legolas looked at him, one eyebrow rising in astonishment.
'You forbid it, Haldir?' he said softly. 'Here, in my house, in my lands, you forbid it?'
'Yes, I forbid it. Lorien makes this expedition, not Mirkwood, and Lorien does not invite you.'
'Then I will come uninvited, Haldir, Guardian of Lorien, if only to show you and my father that Lorien and Mirkwood can work together, and could do so in the future. That is your aim, is it not?'
Haldir stared at him, his eyes icy blue, as if they were suddenly strangers.
'It was already in my mind before today,' Legolas went on. 'But I'm also coming because only yesterday you believed like my father that your own personal safety lay in isolation, although in your case it was isolation from me; and I want to erase that belief from your mind. You and Ada are very much alike: stubborn, independent and…'
'Don't do this,' Haldir said hoarsely.
'Legolas, you ask too much of me. We've barely found one another again, and already…you ask me to risk everything.'
Legolas shrugged. 'There's no way to approach Dol Guldur without risk and you know it,' he said.
'Not…Dol Guldur,' said Haldir, speaking with difficulty. 'You. To risk…losing you. You said… you would stay safe in your father's lands this time.'
Legolas sighed. 'As to that, there is nothing I can do about it,' he said, reaching out to take Haldir in his arms, but Haldir pushed him away roughly.
'Do you think you mean nothing to me?' he cried out. 'Do you know what it has cost me to open myself to you after all this time, and now you expect me to walk into danger with you?'
'You've done so many times before,' said Legolas.
'But not so soon after…after…'
'After we have loved one another, I know,' said Legolas gently. 'But it can be done, and if we are to be together as we once were, this will be only the first of many times when we must risk ourselves. Haldir, we are warriors…'
'I know, I know…' said Haldir, covering his face with his hands. 'Legolas…you've caught me unawares, I'm not myself.'
'How do you think Celinn and Gwirith manage, each day in the same company?'
'I don't know,' whispered Haldir.
This time he let Legolas draw him into his arms.
'Your father won't be pleased,' mumbled Haldir.
Legolas laughed. 'That understates the case somewhat, sweeting,' he said.
They rested together in silence for several minutes, and then Haldir straightened up suddenly.
'We're stubborn? And you're not?' he said loudly, as if he had just that instant registered Legolas' earlier words. 'Can't you see how much your father would wish to prevent you from taking such an unnecessary risk? How much I wish to prevent you? But of course, once Legolas has chosen his path, nothing short of the end of the world will turn him from it.'
'Haldir,' said Legolas quietly. 'Maybe the end of the world is exactly what we're talking about.'
Haldir looked at his calm, serious face, and he had nothing to say.
'I'll bring Cerveth with me,' said Legolas. 'That way he can spend longer with all of you, and it will save you coming back to Mirkwood: you can go home to Lorien directly the expedition is completed.'
For a moment Haldir felt relief at the curtailing of his journey, but then his eyes became bleak as he thought of what Legolas' words meant. Legolas too seemed affected.
'We won't think of parting yet,' he said, pulling Haldir into his arms again. 'At least we'll have this time together, even if it is on the road to Dol Guldur.' Haldir melted against him, and again their mouths met in a kiss, but at last it was Legolas who drew away.
'Go, beloved. I'll see you later, when I've spoken to my father. And…is our joining secret still?'
Haldir's face became closed and fearful.
'Very well,' said Legolas. 'If you wish it, so it shall be.' He unlocked the door of the house and stood on the threshold looking out, then turned to Haldir with a dazzling smile.
'My dearest Haldir, how glad I am your head pained you last night and weakened your implacable strength of mind. Nor is it the first time that pain of the body has allowed my love for you to penetrate that tough shell of yours.'
Haldir smiled at him. 'It wasn't only that. It was…I don't know. But…I'm glad of it, Legolas.' He reached out and caressed Legolas' cheek.
'Now, get you gone,' said Legolas. 'I have to pack, and you have to be the leader of the Galadhrim, my brave Guardian of Lorien.' He kissed Haldir swiftly on the lips and watched him stride quickly across the green space and into the forest in the direction of Thranduil's halls. Neither of them noticed Celinn standing at the window of his dwelling, gazing out at the trees.
Legolas went back into the house and shut the door, and it was only then that he noticed something glittering on the floor. Picking it up, he saw that it was the green beech leaf pin that he had given Haldir after the first night they had spent together as lovers.